I love the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, or the Opening Ceremonies as the Brits say. It was extra special to watch the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony living in China. I distinctly remember belting out Beijing Huan Ying Ni for months after the Olympics. I also remember my disappointment after hearing about the digitally inserted fireworks AND hearing that the cute 9 year old Lin Miaoke, who shook the nation when she sung the Ode to the Motherland had in fact mimed the song sung by 7 year old Yang Peiyi, who had crooked teeth. Then, along with that disappointment, I also understood the intense pressure of a nation to display perfection and to “save face” when the media ripped into their breath-taking Opening Ceremony. The idea of fraud, a theme recurring for China – namely when it was discovered that several Chinese gymnasts were underage again, didn’t irk me that much at all. Though I obviously don’t condone their decision to cheat, it doesn’t make me angry or scream “unfair!”. It is so very Chinese to achieve success at all costs. In fact, a recent article in the Atlantic outlined China’s strategy for achieving medals. It explains that China aims to participate in the least popular activities and also to focus on women’s disciplines since those are generally underfunded in poorer countries and therefore less competitive. How insightful!
The Olympics truly are like an engaging lesson in cultural anthropology, don’t you think? I feel the stories along the way make it worth watching, not so much the medals. How amazing to hear about independent athletes like Guor Marial who are competing without a country or about Malaysian Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi, an eight month pregnant shooter, hoping her baby won’t kick when she competes. The very story about Modern Olympics with its founder Pierre de Coubertin (and the reason that French is used as the official language alongside English) is fascinating to me.
I’m not sure the Beijing Openings could ever be topped in my mind. Still, watching the 2012 Opening Ceremony, we stood for God Save the Queen (I am British too after all..and Tall Mountain is still trying to earn himself a GB passport – hehe) and we enjoyed the refresher on British history and culture including the impromptu Mr. Bean ruining Chariots of Fire. My favorite part of the Opening though, is always the Parade of Nations. During the march, I don’t feel much national pride at all. However, I do beam with pride at the poorer Olympic teams and those teams who have survived the Arab Spring or the tyranny of ruthless dictators. I wonder what life is really like for those North Korean or Syrian athletes and I wonder about the stories of Third Culture Kids marching with their host nations (like the white flag bearer for Kenya or the Asian athlete on Nigeria’s team). I also think of my friends and TCKs I know from these nations and thoroughly enjoy learning fun facts about each country. It’s like a two hour long trivia! Is it only me or do you also guess the flags before the country is announced? I love doing that as well as guessing or looking up country capitals and languages, locating Palau and the Comoros…or reminding Tall Mountain that I could be teaching Ayo Pukapukan instead of French. Haha!
Here are some of the fun facts I heard about the teams as they were marching:
- Bhutan was the last country to receive the television in 1999
- Guinea came third in the march at the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of where they fall in the Mandarin alphabet
- Italians were dressed in Giorgio Armani suits
- Saudi women are participating for the first time ever in the Olympics
- Paraguay has the only flag in the world where the front and back are different
- Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar is the coldest in the world, averaging -18c last January
- Bangladesh (with their team of five athletes) is the most populous country in the world never to have won an Olympic medal – sign of our global reality right there.
What part of the Olympics do you enjoy most? What are your favorite disciplines? What were some of the facts you have heard about the teams this year?
*Let the Games Begin!
(Images courtesy of The Huffington Post and The Chicago Tribune)